No 720 The Silent Wife by ASA Harrison

I usually consider myself the type of reader who doesn’t fall for publishing hype, but a quick look at my Kindle would suggest that I fell for it big time when it came to the phenomenon of Gone Girl. I appear to have a slew of ‘psychological thrillers’ from oddness of The Shining Girls to the excellence of Before I Go To Sleep, all of which seem to have been marketed as the next ‘Gone Girl’ in an attempt to get them noticed.
silent wife

The Silent Wife falls into this category, but for me has neither the page-turning readability of Gone Girl nor an interesting hook – time travelling serial killers, amnesia – of The Shining Girls or Before I Go to Sleep. It’s psychological for sure, but thrilling? Not so much.
The Silent Wife documents the unravelling of a seemingly perfect 20 year relationship and is told in alternating ‘Him’ and ‘Her’ chapters. Jodi is a 45 year old therapist who has a comfortable life, working two days a week from her luxurious condo apartment, attending Pilates and flower arranging classes and preparing dinner for her husband Todd. Todd is also happy with his comfortable life, a property developer who is partial to smoking weed in the morning and rounding off the working day with an upmarket ‘date’ or whichever woman he is currently seeing, before heading home to chilled white wine and canapés with Jodi. Jodi knows about the philandering and Todd knows she knows, but,

It simply doesn’t matter that time and time again he gives the game away, because he knows and she knows that he’s a cheater, and he knows that she knows, but the point is that the pretence, the all-important pretence must be maintained, the illusion that everything is fine and nothing the matter.

Unfortunately, Todd has given up on the pretence and has started a relationship with the 20 year old daughter of his best friend and suddenly his private proclivities have encroached on Jodi’s domestic bliss. Added to this, Jodi and Todd have never married and Jodi is set to lose everything. So the stage is set for thrills and we are told on the second page that for Jodi,

 

  a few short months are all it will take to make a killer out of her.

 

And for me, that is pretty much where the thrills stop. What follows is a strange case of two seemingly successful and intelligent people making very odd decisions and having no self awareness whatsoever. Given that we are ostensibly inside their heads, Harrison uses an omniscient point of view which puts a distance between the reader and the characters that almost prevents any sense of involvement. Jodi and Todd are unlikeable characters doing unlikeable things, but that should be neither here nor there.
Harrison’s use of the omniscient point of view also allows for digressive passages on the topic of psychology which can be oddly jarring. Out of nowhere there will be paragraphs like this:

That pickle jar you threw away all those years ago may have gone to landfill, but it still exists out there. It may be broken, even crushed, but it hasn’t disappeared. It may be forgotten, but forgetting is just a habit. In this analogy the landfill is the unconscious mind. Not the collective unconscious but the personal unconscious – your own individual, private, idiosyncratic wherein every object is inscribed with your name and stamped with your number

I can’t remember a time when I have read a metaphor in a novel and then had it explained to me. The novel also includes word for word transcripts of Jodi’s past visits to her psychiatrist which jar with the flow of the narrative and seem to form little purpose other than to give us a twist in Jodi’s past which appears to make no obvious difference to the plot.
The prose is flat and passive, descriptions of dinners cooked and outfits chosen are intoned in the same dulling manner as discussions over the best way to hire a hit man to kill your husband. It was this bald recitation of facts that I found numbing and given this is a story concerned with the intimacies of human relationships, the deliberate detachment of the reader from the central relationship makes this a frustrating read.
From a personal point of view, I also took exception to a lead female character who felt she could accept her husband’s general infidelities; his affair with a family friend half her age; his impregnation of said girl, even his leaving her. But the killer for Jodi (if you’ll pardon the pun), the moment that pushes her over the edge is the possibility that she might lose her house. Could an intelligent, well-educated woman with her own part time career really think of no other way to support herself than to kill her partner and benefit from his will?
I appear to be in the minority with my view of The Silent Wife, which was critically well received and I can understand it being seen as a frighteningly possible portrait of a marriage where things have slipped too far and of how murder can insidiously, begin to seem like the only option. But the lack of any thrills and the inclusion of several twists that didn’t add anything to the story meant that this cold, detached tale kept me at arm’s length.

 

Read On: Kindle for Android
Number Read: 27
Number Remaining: 719

 

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32 thoughts on “No 720 The Silent Wife by ASA Harrison

  1. A trusted person keeps recommending this book, but every time I have picked this one up off a shelf in a store, something about the tone of the first few pages has left me cold. Though I’m sorry it wasn’t the greatest book for you, I am a little glad to hear my suspicions confirmed.
    Also, no writer should ever explain their metaphor within the book 🙂 -Tania

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    • I hate to put people off a book Tania, particularly when reviews have been so positive, but it just didn’t work for me. It was a quick and easy read but I wasn’t engaged in it at all.

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      • I completely understand not wanting to put someone off, but I was already put off – you hold no responsibility for my put offedness 🙂 The reviews kept talking about how these are not likable/relatable characters and I’m starting my “summer reads” phase where I’m not sure reading about cold, unlikable characters is really my bag. -Tania

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  2. Oh dear. How heavy-handed is that metaphor. That’s disappointing when a read billed as highly suspenseful and thrilling falls flat. I haven’t heard of this one, but I definitely got hooked into Gone Girl last summer.

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    • Oh me too. And I really liked The Shining Girls. I have a few more in this vein, Apple Tree Yard and a couple more Gillian Flynn but I think I’ll give them a break for a while. That short story has put me in the mood for something scary….:)

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  3. I also enjoyed Before I Go to Sleep and I picked this one up as well (from the library). I didn’t get very far and was busy so I never finished. After reading your review I’m glad that I didn’t miss much. I *will* check out The Shining Girls though!

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    • If you can accept the fact that The Shining Girls is about a time travelling serial killer then you’ll enjoy it! I thought Before I Go To Sleep was pretty masterful and much better than Gone Girl…

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      • Sounds like a slow book. Which is strange for a thriller! An odd comparison with Gone Girl too if that is the case, since that was hardly slow.

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  4. A good honest review – I don’t know about you but I struggle more reviewing the books I don’t like. In fairness I probably wouldn’t have picked this one up although I have read Before I go to Sleep and the Shining Girls and really enjoyed both.
    Lynn 😀

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  5. I am so happy not to be alone in being absolutely bored by this book. I wrote a very short review of it last year, the summary of which is basically “YAWN.” I’m not sure if the issue was that the author passed away before she was able to go back and address some of the larger issues (flat characters who make questionable decisions, for example), or if the publisher was just so hungry for a GONE GIRL clone that they kidded themselves into thinking this was it. (And yes, I loved GONE GIRL. I am a shameless Gillian Flynn fan.)

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    • And I am so happy to hear someone else say so! I must head over and read your thoughts. There was such a lack of tension and emotion in this that I really thought I was missing something!

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  6. Thank you for confirming my suspicions that I don’t really want to read this book. I’ve heard too many negative things about it (not just from you). I did love Before I Go To Sleep, though, and much more than Gone Girl. In fact, I thought Gone Girl dragged on too long. I think I’m in the minority on that one. Great review!

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  7. I loved, loved, loved Before I Go to Sleep, too! It was amazingly good. I’ve been on the fence about The Silent Wife. I tried to start it, but it annoyed me so I put it down for another time. After reading your review, I feel comfortable with my decision not to pick it back up…

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  8. An interesting review. I have this book to read and I’m so pleased you quoted that metaphor… Hmmm I’m not going to push it up the pile now. Unfortunately, I have met that woman who puts her house and possessions above everything else so although unusual not impossible as a motive.

    I read Before You Go To Sleep long before Gone Girl and think it was the best of all the psychological reads ever (I’ve read lots 😉

    Great review as it’s great to hear a different opinion.

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  9. Thank you for this review, Cathy. I enjoyed Gone Girl, too, and when The Silent Wife was billed as the next Gone Girl, I was intrigued. However, my sister told me to skip it and she never tells me to skip anything! She had many of the same reasons as you, but in particular said it was just plain boring. I will instead check out Before I Go to Sleep.

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  10. Great review!! I’ve actually had this and Gone Girl on my radar for a while. I wondered which one I would like better, and you’ve definitely convinced me to try Gone Girl. Thanks!!

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  11. Great review, Cathy. Interestingly enough, I picked this up last week at a flea market, but have yet to dive in. The gratuitous metaphors would probably drive me crazy as well, as I’m a fan of to the point story telling. This has a very interesting premise though that I can’t help but be curious.

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    • Go for it, I’d love to hear another point of view. It’s a shame that we can’t read any more of ASA Harrison’s work as I think she might have produced some interesting novels.

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  12. I have The Shining Girls, but because I’ve read Lauren Beukes two previous novels and rate her. It’s her first not marketed as SF, though she’s plainly still an SF writer at heart. She’s also very nice, I had some problems with my kindle edition of her marvellous Zoo City (I got Freshly Pressed for WordPress by that one, there’s a lot of interest in Beukes it turns out), and I mentioned it on twitter and she personally emailed me a fixed version.

    Re this, that explanation of the metaphor is the most bizarre thing I’ve seen in ages, and not in a good way. Definitely not for me.

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